Jo Davis talks to delegates at the Spring Forward 2019 conference in Bristol about what it takes to be a woman at board level and how Avison Young is creating a platform for change.
There’s much said about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And I don’t think anyone would disagree that the real estate industry has some way to go before it truly has a diverse workforce working in an inclusive environment.
For me, a career in real estate was never going to be an easy option, especially at that time when gender stereotypes were so prevalent. I went in with my eyes open. But change and influencing place is something I always believed in and was determined to succeed at. Having studied at Birmingham Polytechnic, and cutting my teeth in local authority planning departments, I was appointed as the first professional female in the Bristol office of Grimleys as we were then called. At my very first interview I was asked “why should we employ you?” I simply replied with “what have you go to lose?” I suspected that the question wasn’t about Jo Davis at all – it was about employing a woman.
From then on, I did what I see so many inspiring women do; I worked hard, I got on with the job in hand, asked questions, challenged things which didn’t seem right and then delivered to the best of my ability. I didn’t start out to be a leader – I wanted to do the best job I could for the people and communities touched by the developments we worked on.
The role I have now is a huge privilege, which comes with great responsibility and accountability.
It was clear from all the panel members at this inspiring conference – the Executive Director of the UK’s oldest working theatre, the Bristol Old Vic; the Chief People Officer at the University of Bristol; and the Chief People Officer of FTSE 100 investment company Hargreaves Lansdown – that the experience of their journey to the Board was similar. They all agreed that with women on the board the leadership and efficiencies improve - this resonates strongly.
As a senior director working in real estate, my responsibility is not just to the clients, people and communities I work with, but to my colleagues, and to future generations. My responsibilities on the board are to equal opportunities to demonstrate their talents; to embrace mentoring and upskilling; to embrace authentic leadership and to take your whole self to work every day. Be proud of who you are and have confidence in your ability. And never be afraid to call out bad behaviour where you see it.
Avison Young has been with me and supported me through my personal journey from being single, to getting married, having babies grow into teenagers and now facing empty nesting. My professional journey has been about managing and influencing change, not in a big bang way but by asking questions, empowering people, prompting change and celebrating success.
At Avison Young we are on our own journey. We’re attracting female graduates into the real estate business, we have fantastic male to female balance, and now we need to focus on retaining these into associate, director and principal positions. That is something as a board we are determined to improve on. Until February 2019 I was the only female board member; I look forward to working with five more women on the UK board going forward – representing a 50:50 gender balance - demonstrating change is gaining momentum.